Earth and Environmental Science Researchers' Project Renewed by NSF for Five Years

May 7, 2014

A team of researchers from Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Science have spent the last five years studying the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico, its waterways, air and terrain.

Recently, the Penn team and colleagues from the University of New Hampshire, University of California, Berkeley and other institutions got word that their project, part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Critical Zone Observatory program, has been renewed for another five years. 

The NSF describes the critical zone as the area “from the tops of the trees to the bottom of the groundwater … a living, breathing, constantly evolving boundary layer where rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms interact.” The agency has funded ten projects in locations across the United States to explore how the critical zone forms, how it functions, how it has changed over time, and how it will change in the future, both affecting and being affected by humans.

The Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory (LCZO) is the only observatory dedicated to studying a tropical environment. For the Penn researchers, the LCZO functions as a living laboratory in which to ask and answer questions about the Earth. 

The overall project is now led by William McDowell of the University of New Hampshire. Alaine Plante, an associate professor of earth and environmental science, heads Penn’s portfolio of research, working with department colleagues Douglas Jerolmack, an associate professor; Jane Willenbring, an assistant professor; and Arthur Johnson, professor and department chair. Each of the scientists has multiple lines of research in Puerto Rico; in the next five years they intend to synthesize some of the research being done. 

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